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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Poetry Presentations!

My favorite two days of the quarter have come and gone once again, and this quarter was no exception: after class I had to run to my car, get myself home, and start boiling a big vat of water for a huge plate of linguine to smother with tomato sauce and fresh grated parmesan. Why, why, why would I want to run home and eat a huge plate of pasta?

Because of Diane Lockward's poem, Linguine, of course-- how well my students presented this hunger-inducing poem, sharing with us the smell and tastes of not only linguine but of fresh basil, "oregano rubbed between our palms," of what it means to "enjoy it, like lovers, every way we could . . . briskly boiled, lighted oiled." Ah, yes, and all that "pulling and sucking." Lockward's poem is nothing less than a feast of the senses--it reminds me, each time my students present it, of the best things in life: passionate love and garlic-laden, oily strands of Al Dente pasta.

Yes, it's true. As their food-themed English 101 instructor, every quarter I rally my students' to create Power Point poetry presentations using work by Diane Lockward, Aimee Nezhukamatathil, Li Young-Lee, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Campbell McGrath, and Juan Felipe Herrera, yielding unexpected surprises--moments where students help me to "get" at an aspect in a poem I might not have considered--the significance of a certain image, the alliterative power of a specific phrase--and this time around was no different, except I wasn't expecting four of my students, the ones assigned "World Unity Salsa" by Juan Felipe Herrera, to contact Mr. Herrera and ask him furnish them with a personal greeting to all of Bellevue College in general , and specifically to their instructor, Martha Silano. I mean, I thought they were joking when they began their presentation with "we contacted him, and ...", but they were serious. Herrera not only replied back to them: he sent them an incredible, not-available-on-You-Tube recitation of their assigned poem, which we all listened to in class today with great amazement.

When we were discussing the poem last week, the Herrera poem group confided in me that they felt squeamish (or just plain stupid) about getting up in front of the room and reading their assigned poem (let's face it--it has a lot of repetition, and it is a little over the top, especially when it gets to the "Breathe baby breath" part), so I told them to see if they could find a recording of the poet reading his own silly poem.

I never dreamed they'd actually take the time to track down Herrera's email address and ask him for just that.

Hearing Herrera talking to all of us as we sat in our little stuffy classroom in C-140. Hearing him pronounce my name and thank me for using his poem in my class. Now that was sure something!

The best part was when Simon shared, in the conclusion, how when they'd met to work on their presentation, each brought along their favorite jar of salsa and a bag of corn chips, and afterwards they all hung out and watched a game together.

Now that's what I call World Unity Salsa!

Thanks so much to Simon, Jake, Tristan, and Joe for spicing up our class today with their in-depth analysis and A+ audio-visuals. But even more importantly, for teaching this veteran instructor to never, ever underestimate the abilities and motivations of even the most anti-poetry-seeming students.

And thanks too, to Juan Felipe Herrera, for responding to their request for a first-hand rendition of his poem. You knocked this instructor's socks off!


Sandy Longhorn said...

Yay, Martha! These are the kinds of teaching days that I live for. Congrats on the great experience.

Kevin said...

new meaning to heart burn from school, sounds terrific for all inovlved. kjm