Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss the merits of poetry in the English classroom.
1. What are the largest obstacles to teaching poetry?
Emily: I think students are inherently afraid of poetry because they are afraid the poet is playing tricks on them. While they might understand each individual word in a poem, there is something about the compact form and typically rigid structure that makes students doubt whether or not they know what the words mean. They begin to think that every word is a symbol and get frustrated and just quit. The largest obstacle is helping students navigate through a tough poem with confidence.
Aubrey: I feel as if students split down the middle, it’s either fear or the definitive belief that “short” texts are synonymous with ease. It’s very difficult for me to guide both groups to a middle ground. Parsing poetry should be difficult but not every word is a symbol.
2. What merit is there to teaching poetry?
Emily: I love how tight and specific it is. Poems are like taking a novel and cutting it down to the bare bones. What a novelist can posit in 200 pages a poet can do in 14 lines. I think this is the biggest benefit. Students can hone similar skills they would with the book they never pick up because it is too long.
Aubrey: What I wouldn’t give for some concision in student writing. I’d also like poetry to prove to them that a small turn of phrase can pack an incredibly large wallop. So many of my students are hung up on the idea of more, more, more. Poetry teaches patience and the value of writing in “small spaces.”
3. Aside from Walt Whitman, who is your favorite poet?
Emily: There is no other poet other than Whitman. He is the ultimate. I honestly have a difficult time thinking of another poet who even comes close. I guess I like Mary Oliver’s poetry. And Billy Collins. I guess Shakespeare’s sonnets are pretty catchy. But no one can touch the man, Whitman.
Aubrey: No one should touch that man. It worries me that you say “guess” and “like” so close to Billy Collins. No one talks no hurt to Billy Collins. I’m really taken with Kay Ryan. Her poetry can be sparse and yet so satisfying. I take great pleasure in how she measures each word.
4. Have you ever taken a poetry course or written poetry? If so, please share, in vast detail, your experience.
Emily: Yes…in college I took a creative writing class all on writing poetry. The two clearest memories I have of the class are:
1. We had class on “Green Beer Day” and I was a sophomore and didn’t understand why everyone was acting so funny in class.
2. My poems were always the worst in the class.
My professor never taught. We didn’t even study poems to mimic or model. We just talked about our feelings. It was a joke of a class.
Aubrey: I also took creative writing in college. As a senior. I learned:
1. I’m terrible at writing dialogue. Horrifically terrible.
2. I like to fancy myself a poet.
The problem with the second observation is I’m mediocre at best. My best poem? About the strange men at the laundromat by my house. My worst? Something about the wood grain on our porch swing. It seemed very artsy at the time but I’m pretty sure that one of those moment where my professor should have crossed out the poem with a red pen.
5. Choose one celebrity who might become a modern poet. Imagine the type of verse they would construct and/or how their poetry might be received.
Emily: Oh, you know my love of Kanye. I think The Anthology of Really Important Modern Poetry: Timeless Poems by Snooki, John Boehner, Kanye West, and Other Well-Versed Celebrities is such a great piece of writing because it takes the average speech of a person and turns it into poetry. I love their Kanye piece. With that in mind, I think R. Kelly would make a good poet. The way he elongates vowels when he speaks in melodious rhapsody of misogyny are impressive. I would imagine an R. Kelly poem being very long with very few set line breaks. I just see them running on in a style of free verse.
Aubrey: I feel as if R. Kelly’s “poems” would have to qualify as epics, even if all they were about was being stuck in closets and such.