February 05, 2007

Teaching Audre Lorde to forestry students

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."

Exactly.

14 comments:

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

SUPER! Great way to see it! :-D

Nice story! :-D

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Makes me miss teaching! LOL!

Terminaldegree said...

You are an awesome teacher!

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

That is just so cool. I wish I'd studied more poetry... I love it when people show me how to see things I couldn't see before.

RageyOne said...

How appropriate. Teaching and understanding a subject should be relevant to the individual. It was in your case. :>)

Mona Buonanotte said...

Now I feel the need to read Audre Lorde! Because of that shy, big guy....

Leslee said...

Perfect

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Well now you have made me think of the phoenix in a different way. It always seemed like a useful image but borrowed from another culture's distant past. Now when I hear a person speak of a phoenix, I'll think of our burned forests -- the symbol will be immediate and local.

Linda (FM) said...

I just LOVE the image of a big forest ranger kinda guy in a flannel shirt connecting with Audra Lorde's poetry.

Now that's learning at it's best!

PPB said...

awesome

kathy a said...

excellent! jennifer's comment is perfect.

Aliki2006 said...

I love how poetry really can touch people from all walks of life...even if they are reluctant to think so at first!

I used the forest fire analogy last week in clas when we were talking about theories of war. Some historians believe wars function in that capacity--promoting growth and renewal, I mean.

Silver Creek Mom said...

Wonderful how he took that poem and incorapted into a way he could understand.

That is poetry in a nut shell

Dafina Girl said...

that's awesome.