Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Poems I Love to Teach: Poems I Don't Understand

How's that for a title of a blog post? Maybe I should explain. I find (sometimes, not always) that I'm drawn to poems that are just a little out of reach, just a little too complex for me to truly understand the first time through. Maybe they're still even a little too complicated after five reads. Or ten. Sometimes it's that I enjoy trying to figure it out--but not always. Sometimes I just like to bask in the genius of the poet and recognize that he or she has created something beautiful, even if I don't know what it all means.

Take this poem I read today by Carey McHugh:

You will come first as a sound
and then      a breath

will come like a cold spell      a hipbone

    your lilt above the lake a crowcall
you will come as expected in

iron weather      will craft a blade

from the horse's winter stall

Please read the rest at Poetry Daily.

I don't really "get" this poem, but I like it. I don't even know if I can say why I like it right now. And for me, with poems, that's okay. It's so much fun to chew on a poem, ponder it for awhile. Come back to it over and over and discover something new about it each time. Even if I never find myself really grasping its "true meaning."

I don't react this way to all poems that I don't understand. Heavens, that would mean I'd be swooning in adoration over millions of pieces. But if I poem has some other amazing characteristics, other things about it that I enjoy, then I can give up on any desire I have to truly comprehend and instead just appreciate these poems for what they are.

There's another poem I love--it's called "Password" and it's by one of my all-time favorites, Naomi Shihab Nye. It starts out like this:

I have made so many mistakes
you might think I would sit down 

You really must read the rest via Google Books (and then run out and buy the collection it comes from).

There's so much I don't really "get" about this poem, including the title, but there are so many other things that are just so wonderful about it, like the first two lines, and her use of simple language, and the ending, and so on. I love it completely, but I don't completely understand it. Again, that's okay.

Which brings me back full circle to the title of this post--why do I love to teach these kinds of poems? Well, for one, they stimulate some amazing discussions. If you don't truly understand parts of a poem, you're bound to hear some new ideas from your students. It's one of the reasons I sometimes (but not often) wish that I taught secondary school--the discussions could reach tremendous levels, more so than at the elementary level (which isn't to say we don't have some great ones in my classroom!).

Also, poems like this help prove to your students that poems don't have to be understood to be useful or great. In both the poems I've mentioned, for example, there are countless things that you could "zoom in on," regardless of whether the poem makes sense to anyone in the room. This, as I've said before, is an important poetry lesson to teach.

And on top of all of that, it helps get rid of that whole "teacher as all-knowing ruler of the classroom" sort of thing. When a teacher can admit to students that they don't understand something, I think that's a big deal.

I've gone on for quite some time on this topic. Thanks for reading. I guess it's been awhile since I posted and I had a lot of pent-up poetry energy. And before we go, are there any poems you love that you don't really "get?" Let me know in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment