May 13, 2006

Poetry snowball

JoVE at Tricotomania was sweetheart this week to send me a subscriber-only article from The Chronicle of Higher Education; for you lucky subscriber types, here's the link.

The article, by Kevin Detmar, a professor of English, entitled "Garrison's Pretty Good Poetry," discusses the Prairie Home Companion host's role as a champion of "good" but not great poetry, and how, "While no one was looking, Garrison Keillor has quietly become the nation's Dean of Poetry":
It would be as churlish to complain of Keillor's success as it would to complain of Oprah's. The comparison isn't just a convenient one: What Oprah has done for American fiction and creative (sometimes very creative) nonfiction since starting her hugely influential book club, Keillor is now doing for poetry, with the same great reach and same built-in limitations. Oprah sometimes seems interested in just one kind of narrative, the narrative of "recovery"; Keillor seems interested in just one kind of poem. Actually, though, that's a bit unfair: It's not that he "seems" interested in only a narrow range of poetry; he explicitly professes to be. He's for the plain-spoken, heard-not-read, low-to-middlebrow poem that hasn't been tainted by association with the scholars. Keillor claims to know the meaning of poetry, and it is singular: "The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader is [sic] obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right."
Detmar closes by writing, "Those of us who care deeply about poetry have largely abdicated our responsibility to teach regular folk how to read, understand, and appreciate poems, while apparently reserving the right to carp about it when someone like Keillor takes on the job we've shirked. "What we have loved,/ Others will love, and we will teach them how": Those lines from Wordsworth's The Prelude, appropriated for an essay on teaching by the great contemporary-poetry critic Helen Vendler, suggest that lovers of poetry — difficult, challenging, unsettling poetry — have some work to do."

So then I tried Google for a link to the essay, only to discover Say Something Wonderful, Eric Selinger's "blog about teaching, poetry, and teaching poetry, by the Project Director of the NEH Summer Seminar Say Something Wonderful: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetry"; his January post on Vendler and Pedagogy; and also his first wonderful thing to say, from April 2005,
Like physics or chemistry instructors, that is to say, we must be able to explain both results and method, to show our students why certain questions make a poem more instructive or delightful, while others set blinders on the reader’s eyes. We need an informed and confident sense of how to introduce poetry to our students—its nature, its pleasures, its difficulties—and of how to read a poem closely without (as Billy Collins infamously warns) “beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.” Above all, I guess, we owe it to our students to model how reading—reading closely, reading aloud, reading in bed—can bring poems to life, in every sense of that fine phrase.
Which comes 'round nicely to the Chronicle of Higher Ed article.

Don't miss Professor Selinger's four Lesson Plans for high school teachers at Poetry Out Loud which I mentioned here; speaking of Poetry Out Loud, if you'll be in the Washington, DC area on Tuesday, head over to the POL National Finals at the Lincoln Theater at 7:30 pm; admission is free, but tickets are required.

Also not to be missed -- Prof. Selinger's link in the blogroll to Language Is a Virus where you can find such swell games as Cut Up Machine, Madlib Poem, Magnetic Poetry, Automatic Poetry Generator, Text Collage, Haiku-a-Tron, Poem Engine, and Title-o-Matic (you find the links, it's getting late here).

Or the link in an early post to Teaching the Art of Poetry. All wonderful stuff.

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