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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eng 101: Millions of Peaches, La Dolce Vita!, Sublime Chowder, Little Bastards of Vine, & Hot-Water Cornbread

I don't even know where to begin, but I'll do my best. In fact, I'll make a list, though this is not necessarily in order of preference.

1. It occurred to me I never quite fully comprehended the magnificence of "Ode to Conger Chowder" until I saw/heard it paired with slide images of an actual conger eel, a heavy black cauldron, a steaming bowl of chowder, and a serene ocean shore at dusk. I also very much appreciated the slide with a map of Chile, so we could see exactly where this guy Neruda hails from, along with the visual/verbal list of all of Neruda's books. In Spanish. Without translation.

2. When the You Tube video of Patricia Smith's "Let the Burning Begin" conked out, the group leader stepped in and picked right up where she left off . . . reading her poem without hesitation or stammering, as if he'd practiced it many times.

3. The group presenting Li-Young Lee's "From Blossoms" passed out sliced peaches after arguing that the poem is a reminder to live life moment to moment, not worrying about what sorrow or pain lies ahead.

4. The "Linguine" group outdid themselves, analyzing the poem stanza by stanza, grappling with the literal and figurative supping, slurping, and sucking. [Diane, I wish you could have been there; it was amazing.]

5. The "Cherry Tomatoes" (poem by Sandra Beasley) group figured out that the speaker's childhood wasn't actually "perfect." That was made clear to them as they looked closely at how the tomatoes were being described (bastards, demons, collapsed, rotting, etc.). They did a wonderful job with their slide presentation--pairing words from the poem with photos of cherry tomatoes, parents arguing in front of a child, and the city girl plucking a tomato from a plastic carton.

I learned so much from them, from sitting back and watching and listening. We never discussed these poems in class; they had the opportunity to ask me questions during group conferences,
but mostly they were on their own; I was impressed with how willing they were to trust their guts about what their chosen poem was up to--how structure, image, and metaphor could all add up to the experience of the poem. They seemed to understand a poem cannot be reduced to an unadorned prose summary of its "message" or "about"-ness. I'm not sure I taught them that, or that their own "take" on a poem is valid if it can be substantiated with evidence from the text, but if I did, I'm especially glad.

I'm not sure why I care so much about poetry, but I also know I care about them--each of my students--and in particular, since we're done with poetry for the quarter--how they approach poetry the next time they encounter it. Who knows, maybe I did engender a passion for poetry in one or two students. But even if I didn't, the last two days was like sitting in poetry church. I loved every minute of it.


Kathleen said...

Sounds wonderful!

Diane Lockward said...

I wish I'd been there too! Were there any visual aids?

Martha Silano said...

Diane -- the "Linguine" presentation was one of my favorite. They used Powerpoint with slides of couples and plates of steaming pasta. They also very proudly incorporated what you told them in your email to me about the couple in the poem. ;-)