Modeling Reading Poetry

Our students often see us read poetry that we have written papers on, studied in grad school, memorized as undergrads. They think that the ability to read poems is innate in English teachers and, therefore, far beyond them.

One exercise I have done in Comp and Lit (2nd semester freshman) is assign the students to go through the anthology and pick out a poem that is not on the reading list. I tell them that I will read the poems in class and model how to read a poem.

Most of the students pick different poems, so there is variety.

If they picked a poem I know, I say that, give a brief intro, and then go on to the next poem.

studyig-1900sBut it has been interesting. One guy suggested a poem by William Carlos Williams, not my favorite because of “Use of Force” and “Just to Say.” (Though I love his newspaper poems now, after ALA in Boston in May.) So I looked at the poem and was trying to figure it out/follow it. The student who picked it had seen there was an explanation of the poem and he had read that. When I got stuck on my interpretation, he referred to the book and explained the poem to the class. Whoo hoo!

That’s what modeling poetry does. It takes away our “expert” standing on everything, while still ceding us expert standing on reading literature, and the students get to see how even a professor can stall on a poem’s interpretation.

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