Discovering the Relevance of Words
As someone who fell in love with the poetry of the 17th-19th century long before that of a more current era, I often find myself drifting in the direction of the former during classroom discussions with my high school students. Unfortunately, I find I’m met with that deer-in-the-headlights stare by the majority of them, as they begin to groan that they are bored, or that it doesn’t make sense, or that the language is too old, or that it’s just simply old. I can help to explicate, and walk them through the pieces, and while a few of them will have that lightbulb moment, the majority get lost in the clock, or their cell phones, or the pretty student across the room. It’s frustrating to recite the words I love, and get little in return. This, however, is part of being a teacher, and I learned that a decade ago.
Over the past few years I’ve started to inch closer to a purely modern perspective on poetry. I’ve replaced much of the Donne, and Byron, and Browning, with Mark Halliday, Donald Hall, and Sharon Olds. While the newer pieces are still stunning, and definitely words the students should know, I’m yearning for them to see where it all began. How do we get to John Ashbery if we had never had Wordsworth? How do we find beauty in Billy Collins if it wasn’t for Christopher Marlowe? Where is the stark reality of Donald Hall’s “A Perfect Life,” if we don’t get Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”?
This leaves me with today’s question – or questions – of the day:
I realize that each generation celebrates a new form of poetry, but shouldn’t the masters still be taught? Or as we move into a new time with a much newer English language, and much newer meaning of poetry, do we simply focus on the present? Should we leave the 19th century and below for students who choose to study poetry in college? Where do we go from here, and what will our curriculum look like in the years to come?
It’s a new world, and while I want to embrace it with a bear hug, I find myself barely willing to shake its hand.
Leave your answer in the comments, or post it on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/poetryquestion
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