February 15, 2005

Savoring poetry

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.

9 comments:

What Now? said...

Sounds like a wonderful day! Is there time in class for everyone to read their poem aloud? I always run into a time crunch when I try to do these things?

Did your students who brought in rap carefully edit the vocabulary to shelter your innocence? My students regularly do this for me, which I find rather touching.

What Now? said...

Oops--sorry about that question mark after the second sentence.

jo(e) said...

We did run out of time in one class so there will be a little spillover onto Wednesday.

Yes, my students who chose rap were pretty careful not to pick anything misogynist, and one student was very careful to change certain words. For some reason, that always makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

Cool idea.

Cut-Rate Parasite said...

That's a great idea. I may do something like that in the future. I keep worrying that I'm boring the students too much with serious thoughts about serious things. I love the way your assignment assumes they have favorite poems. Much better than telling them they should.

bitchphd said...

What a great teaching idea! Must do this.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Oooh. So wish I had an excuse to do this in my class. (Just so far from the topic ...)

Laura said...

That is a wonderful idea. I'm not sure what I'd bring . . . Oh, I know. I love this poem. It's called "Jane was with me" by Marvin Bell. Thanks for reminding me what I love about poetry.

Mel said...

great idea! and how lovely that you got such impassioned responses...