Yesterday was Bring-a-Poem-You-Love-to-Class day. We are about four weeks into the semester, my students were feeling overwhelmed and tired, and I wanted to have a day that would remind them what they love about literature. I was curious as to what these students would actually bring. None of them are English majors - we have no English majors on our campus - they are studying to be biologists, chemists, social scientists, and architects. They are mostly seniors. My course is the first and last literature course they will ever take in their lives so I feel this urgency to make them fall in love with language, with poetry, with words.
They came to class today, eagerly, carrying worn poetry books, poems printed from the internet, and poems they'd written themselves. They read aloud in turns, some shy and hesistant, some surprisingly confident. We heard from some famous poets: Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Sharon Olds, Robert Browning, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Allen Ginsburg. We heard a bit from the Vagina Monologues. Some brought rap music, the lyrics carefully printed out. We listened to the words of Ani DiFranco and Joni Mitchell and Dr. Seuss. Some students brought amazing poems from poets I had never heard of.
My favorite part was listening to the students talk about why they loved the poems. One woman said that her mother used to read her Robert Frost at night if she woke up from a nightmare. Another woman said that her Dad read her poetry every night before she went to bed. Some of the poems brought back tearful memories of high school romances. Some were political. Several poems brought back the grief of 9/11. They talked about their favorite poetry websites, their favorite high school English teachers, and poems posted in the trains in the city. Some of my students write poetry, and some have participated in the Poetry Slam movement.
I think it was worthwhile to have an enjoy-and-appreciate poetry day. Wednesday, we will get back to our intense discussions and endless analysis, but Monday was a day to hear poems aloud and savor them.