It’s that time in the semester again when I do a little segment for my College Writing I students on poetry. We read poetry and write a little about it. Much groaning and head banging ensues.
Students have been brainwashed into thinking they cannot understand poetry. Part of this is the falling away of the arts in general from the definition of education. Poetry is not an integral part of teaching to the test. The other part, I believe, is that the poetry that is still taught in schools is not relatable enough. It’s the perennial problem of being three weeks behind in all your high school classes so that you never make it past the 1950s in History or English (those chapters on the Gulf War or Annie Dillard always sat neglected at the back of my textbooks). So, in any event, students never come to equate poetry, literature or other arts with newness. It all appears like it should be part of a museum, not actually a continuously practiced art.
I am going to change that tonight. I have taught Wendell Berry poems in the past, but even those are a few decades old. I am going to teach Christopher Yokel’s “Standing Stones” tonight. I am going to simply ask the students what they hear in the poem. What sounds does it make? What tone or emotion does it have? How do you think the poet is conveying the tone through his word choice? And finally, what do you think it means? Nothing fancy, just a discussion. But this time, it will be about a poem that is four days old.
I hope it won’t appear dank and dusty, like something I pulled out of a vault. Instead, in teaching a new text I hope the class will find it more relatable, fresh and exciting. A professor can hope.