When I was first asked to make a list of poetry collections for people who think they don't like poetry, my first thought was, "Well, isn't that just about everyone?" Not quite--I do have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook, of whom the majori...
2 April 2014
It's no secret that poetry's audience is,... well,...you know, um, let's just say small. There were few teachers in my own education who managed to crack my own resistant wall to poetry; at least the poetry that they felt had to be read in the obstacle course of crossing the diploma line.
I'm not saying that I welcomed the opportunity to become enlightened by the, whatever it was that poetry brought to one's quality of life. Truthfully, my personal appraisal of poetry as a way to expend one's remaining minutes of existence wasn't worth listening to.
But immaturity and adamant ignorance, high volume buffoonery absolute confidence that popularity gained via a sort of daring, yet charming class clownishness are real variables affecting one's young judgment in many cases.
Poetry may have been ready for me to wake up. But, I just wasn't ready to wake up for poetry.
That is until in the meanderings of my day to day obliviousness I was found myself occasionally in the right place at the right time with a good reason to let my guard down.
Do I regret my Metrophobic resistance? I don't know. There are so many roads taken and not taken; perhaps as many missed opportunities as those that were serendipitous.
OKAY, my relationship with poetry aside, I must admit that I'm a big fan of digression ala Holden Caufield chapter 24. While writing that last paragraph, the original phrasing in the first sentence was "Do I regret my poetry-phobic resistance?" And, then I thought, "Geez, probably most people reading this are English teachers, maybe I shouldn't embarrass myself anymore than I do anyway and check to see if there actually is a fear of poetry phobia." So, off on a serendipitous digression I went. Not only is there a word, "metro phobia," but the first website I went to (http://phobias.about.com/od/phobiaslist/a/metrophobia.htm) had this to say about it in it's opening paragraph.
"Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down and search for esoteric meanings. Others simply feel that poetry is somehow “beyond” them, belonging only to the realm of the pretentious and highly educated."
Something to think about as we do our best to promote Poetry month.
And with that digression the intended trajectory of these comments shifted....
What if I revisited my own perceptions of my early lack of interest in poetry based upon that first paragraph about Metrophobia quoted above.Maybe, I had actually liked poetry given my fairly early enjoyment of Dr. Seuss (except for the inevitable scary pages). Maybe I found those early and risqué encounters with limericks quite interesting. Maybe it was that Pelican poem my father taught me....You know the one that goes...
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I'm damned if I see how the helican!
Oh it was my dad telling me a funny poem that actually used references to the words "damn" and "hell." And, it was so clever in rhyming "pelican" with "belly can" and "hell it can."
Long before the phrase even existed, this brand of "out of the box thinking" captivated my imagination.
And maybe it was the assumption of accepted practice in teaching literary analysis, like frog dissection, was the obvious way to get kids to appreciate poetry rather than one very effective way to take the inherent wonderfulness out of poetry and kill it as dead as that frog we were dissecting in biology class.
But, as I look back on my own oscillating interest in poetry, there are recollections (some perhaps embarrassing others not) of key experiences that brought me out of the fog where instant rejection reigned supreme. And, the list made it very clear to me that everyone's journey to literary appreciation varies. What "did it" for me was a unique experience. The specific literary pieces that worked for me worked because of a complex interaction between the works themselves, the readiness I had for being receptive, the influences of my own personal experiences' and perceptions of those experiences on my zone of proximal development and the artistry of those educators, friends, and real or imagined girl friends.
For what it's worth... among the most paradigm-altering experiences with poetry in my own journey were the following:
The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby
Joe Cocker's You are so Beautiful
"Stories and Prose Poems" by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Langston Hughes' "Harlem" (A Dream Deferred)
LeRoi Jones (I don't even remember the specific poem, but I do remember that it slammed up against the wall and made me think about things)
Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken
and even Rod McKuen
And, now, curiously, I find myself remembering more and more as I look for a spot to stop adding to the list. But, you can probably see what I'm seeing.
It was the 60's And, I'm convinced that it was because the bridge between where I was and the poetry I"m remembering was a short bridge. I found that bridge "crossable." And, I found that in crossing that bridge, that nearby slightly longer bridges were more interesting than I'd previously thought they might be.
e.e. cummings, Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, limericks, and that Pelican poem my dad used to ask me if I'd ever heard every time we saw a pelican and I asked my own children every time we saw a pelican.all intrigued me in their "at the edge" of word play and out of the box thinking.
Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie led me to Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax, and T.S.Eliot. Mark Twain's War Prayer.
But, the question is, "Is my particular journey from poetry-resistant to poetry-interest a prescription as in here-are-the-poems-that-got-me-so-they're-the-poems-I-should-teach?"
Of course not. But, they do suggest that for many, the journey to appreciation for the unappreciative might have some remarkable similarities to my journey if we find a way to begin with lyrics, and poetry, and word play, and childhood memories and experiences to which they already have a welcoming receptiveness.
And, what I can say is that although I am not a believer in the infallibility of data-driven decision making, I can't help but suggest that IF POETRY is worth teaching, then the data seems to be indicating that we are having a disturbingly low success rate for our efforts in promoting poetry as a welcome addition to our students' life-long reading practice.
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