Even though I teach literature courses, my students aren't English majors. Many of them are studying to be scientists, some forest rangers. Although I always have a handful of students that come from the Big City Like No Other, most of my students come from small towns in the middle of nowhere. Quite a few have worked on family farms or construction crews.
Last week, when I assigned a bunch of Audre Lorde poems, I warned my students that the poems would be difficult. "But tackle them anyhow," I said, "Read them aloud to your friends, write about them, see if you can find one that touches you." I warned them that poetry is different than science; they might need to use a different part of their brain.
In class on Friday, I was pleased at how enthusiastically they discussed the poems. "You know, I don't completely understand this poem," one woman said, "But I like it."
FromQueens chose a poem that was set in Big City Like No Other, and she kept saying, "Wow, this poem's depressing."
FlannelShirt, a shy, big man who is more likely to carry a chain saw than a metro card, spoke up, "But I liked how she kept talking about flames, you know, fire and ashes." He looked at his classmate, "That seemed kinda hopeful."
I looked at him to encourage him to say more. "The phoenix imagery, you mean?" I waited for him to talk about the mythical bird that bursts into flame and then rises again from the ashes.
He gave me a puzzled look and shifted in his seat. "Forests, I mean. Old growth forests. That's how they regenerate. From fire. They burn, and that starts new growth."